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    The Overland at Dimboola. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Traction building for The Overland future

By Dylan De Jong 

A ‘long-awaited’ return of passenger-rail service The Overland has created a sense of hope for an advocacy group formed to save the asset. 

The future of the 133-year-old train service running between Melbourne and Adelaide has been subject to uncertainty in past years. A question mark still remains about its permanency.

Friends of The Overland, which formed in July last year to help promote the service, believes growing interest in the train would result in securing a lifeline for the service. 

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Group member and former Horsham mayor Mark Radford, who was one of the first passengers to use the service when it returned earlier this month, said it was critical rail-travel options improved for Wimmera residents. 

Mr Radford said Horsham Rural City Council made it a priority to ensure services would improve. 

He said another key priority would be extending a sprinter service from Melbourne to Ararat out to Horsham. 

“From a council point of view, even though I’m not a councillor anymore, I can say council’s priority is still to advocate for regional and rural rail services,” he said. 

“The council’s commitment is for a regular train service from Horsham to Ararat through to Melbourne.” 

Service provider Journey Beyond amended the timetable for the two-day-a-week service this month. The service runs to Melbourne on Sundays and Thursdays and to Adelaide on Fridays and Mondays. 

Mr Radford said he hoped the change would mean Wimmera residents could visit Melbourne and Adelaide at more ideal times to access medical appointments and for leisure. 

“I think it has changed in favour of Victoria, from a Horsham point of view,” he said.

“Now if you want to go to Adelaide for the weekend you can catch the train on Friday afternoon and be back on Sunday afternoon.

“That creates opportunities to go to the footy or any other reason you might want to go to Adelaide for the weekend. 

“But also, when travelling the other way, if you want to go to Melbourne for medical appointments, you will be able to do that during the week.”

Despite the changes to the service, Mr Radford stressed there was still major potential for improved services. 

The Victorian State Government last year committed to financially support The Overland service for three years. 

The South Australian government pulled out of its joint funding agreement with Victoria in late 2018.

Mr Radford said it would be ‘vital’ for the Friends of The Overland group to continue promoting the service to ensure its survival after the three-year period was over.  

“We want to improve the numbers of people using it and that itself will drive other changes,” he said. 

“If more people use the train then the question from the businesses point-of-view will be, ‘How we can offer other things?’, such as a more frequent service. 

“Journey Beyond is keen to listen to what our group says. They’re interested to hear from people about how we can promote the service.”

Mr Radford invited people who had used the service to encourage others to consider it as a travel option. 

“The fundamental part is word of mouth – people jumping on the train, enjoying the experience and telling someone about that experience,” he said. 

The entire January 13, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!